Mercenary War - Background

Background

In 241 BC the First Punic War between Rome and Carthage came to an end with Carthaginian defeat. As part of the terms of the treaty, Rome demanded that Carthage give up "all islands lying between Sicily and Italy", immediately pay Rome a sum of 1,000 talents of gold, and pay a further 2,000 talents over a period of 10 years. After meeting the Roman demands, a destitute Carthage now found itself in a quandary: it had employed numerous mercenaries in the First Punic War and now found it difficult to pay them. During the First Punic War the Carthaginians had recruited mercenaries from diverse sources, including Iberians, Celt-Iberians, Balearic Islanders, Ligurians, Celts and Greeks.

This was a problem, as some 20,000 mercenaries, formerly under the command of Hamilcar Barca (who had resigned his command at the end of the First Punic War), would shortly be returning from Lilybaeum (modern Marsala in Sicily) to Carthage. Concerned about the possibility of a large, disgruntled, mercenary force encamped near Carthage, Gesco, the Carthaginian commandant responsible for transporting the mercenaries from Sicily, attempted to deploy the mercenaries throughout Carthaginian territory. It was his plan to bring the mercenary units back to the capital one at a time, for demobilization and payment. However, delays by the Carthaginian government, and a belief that the mercenaries could be convinced to settle for less than their agreed wages, resulted in the eventual gathering of most of the mercenary armies near Carthage. Wary of such a large foreign army near the capital, and alarmed by the disruptive effects they were having on the city, the Carthaginian government convinced the mercenaries to withdraw to the nearby city of Sicca Veneria (modern El Kef), 170 km south-west of Carthage, taking their families and baggage trains with them.

Once in Sicca Veneria, the mercenaries collaborated on a list of demands and "submitted that this was the sum they should demand from the Carthaginians". When Hanno the Great met with officers from the mercenary companies, he rejected their demands, claiming that Carthage could not possibly pay such an exorbitant sum due to her post-war indemnities to Rome.

The mercenaries were unhappy with the rejection of their demands, and were mistrustful of Hanno, much preferring to deal with the commanders they had served under in Sicily, such as Hamilcar, who had seen their worth and furthermore made promises to them. Unsurprisingly, due to the mistrust and difficulties in communication (the mercenaries were from many different nations, speaking many different languages), the negotiations quickly broke down. A force of mercenaries, about 20,000 strong, armed themselves and marched towards Carthage, seizing the town of Tunis some 21 km from Carthage.

Realizing their error in letting such a large foreign army gather in the first place, and also realizing that they had released the family and belongings of the mercenaries as well and thus had given up a bargaining position, the Carthaginian government had no choice but to capitulate to the mercenary demands.

Not willing to deal with Hanno again, and feeling insulted by Hamilcar for not having met with them in the first round of negotiations, the mercenaries agreed to negotiate with Gesco. Given their newly strengthened bargaining position, the mercenaries vastly inflated their original demands, even requiring the extension of the payments to the Libyans whom Carthage had conscripted (and who were not mercenaries) as well as other Numidians and to the escaped slaves and the like who had joined their ranks against Carthage. Once again Carthage had no choice but to agree.

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